Baffled French commentators were lost for words to describe what happened at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night after Paris Saint-Germain capitulated before a Barcelona side that scored six goals without even playing at their best.
The French champions had been hailed as heroes last month when they crushed the mighty Spaniards 4-0 in Paris in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
No team in Champions League history had ever surrendered such a commanding lead in the return leg.
But on Wednesday night, in front of almost 100,000 people at the Nou Camp, PSG shipped three late goals in an incredible last seven minutes as Barcelona completed an astonishing comeback, winning 6-5 on aggregate.
L’Équipe, France’s leading sports daily, was quick to highlight the implications for PSG of becoming European football’s greatest chokers, its front page on Thursday headlining on the Parisians’ “Unspeakable” debacle.
“PSG have become a global brand symbolising defeat,” wrote editorialist Vincent Duluc. “It is the entire PSG project that is threatened by this humiliation.”
Le Parisien, the French capital’s main local newspaper, also struggled to make sense of the disaster.
“Where does one start? What words can describe this spectacle of desolation, the ruin, this shame (…)?” asked Dominique Sévérac.
“Heads will surely roll,” he added, starting with coach Unai Emery, the man who had been hailed as a tactical genius after the first leg at the Parc des Princes.
‘More our fault than them playing well’
Looking shell-shocked after the game, Emery said PSG were damaged by German referee Deniz Aytekin’s decisions to award two penalties to Barcelona – both of which were in the second half.
Lionel Messi converted the first penalty on 50 minutes to make it 3-0, before PSG’s Edinson Cavani scored what looked like a crucial away goal.
But Neymar, after scoring an 88th-minute free kick, tucked away the second penalty in the 91st minute before Sergi Roberto got the vital goal in the fifth minute of injury time.
“The truth is we have let a huge opportunity get away and we are aware of that. In the first half it was more our fault than them playing well,” said the Basque coach.
“In the second half it changed. The (Messi) penalty got them off to a great start, but I was already calmer because I could see the team was responding better, were better positioned on the pitch and could do damage.
“We had chances to make it 3-2 and then the refereeing decisions, I don’t know if they were right or not, but for sure they damaged us. Then in the last two minutes we lost everything we had recovered in the second-half.”
Emery’s fate is now in the hands of PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari official whose country has poured millions of dollars into the French club.
“This is a nightmare for everybody. Is Unai Emery still credible? This is not the moment to talk of this. After the game, we are all upset,” Al-Khelaifi said.
“When you win 4-0, then lose 6-1, it’s very hard to accept,” he added.
Meanwhile, PSG’s Belgian defender Thomas Meunier blasted his team-mates for allowing Barcelona to bully them.
“At 5-1 down, we were qualifying but we conceded a goal that we should not have conceded,” he said. “We acquiesced, we were victims and let them dominate us.
“Even when were 3-1 down we had lots of chances to score but we didn’t take them. We made unacceptable mistakes and handed the game to them.”